Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, has an atmosphere that is more similar to that of our planet than scientists previously believed.
The discovery was made by a team of scientists from the University College London who analyzed the data collected over the course of seven years.
The data was gathered by the international Cassini probe and according to the researchers’ analysis, Titan’s atmposphere interacts with the solar magnetic field and the radiation, which creates a wind made of nitriles and hydrocarbons which is being blown away far from its polar area and into space.
The scientists claim that this wind is quite similar to the one that comes from the polar regions of the Earth.
Titan, like Venus and Earth and unlike any moons, is made of a rocky surface and has a thick atmosphere.
Experts say that Titan is the only planet, apart from Earth, that has seas, rainfalls and rivers. Titan is also bigger than Mercury.
Andrew Coates, one of the lead authors of the study, said that Titan’s atmosphere consists mainly of methane and nitrogen, and has a pressure that is 50% higher than that on Earth.Coates added that thanks to data collected by the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer the scientists observed that the top of Titan’s atmosphere is actually losing approximately 7 tonnes of nitriles and hydrocarbons every day.
Until now, the scientists were not really sure why this was happening.
According to the researchers, nitriles are molecules with carbon and nitrogen tightly bound together.
The new study suggests that Titan’s atmospheric loss due to a polar wind that is produced by sunlight interacting with the solar magnetic field and molecules that are located in the upper atmosphere.
The scientists detailed their findings in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
Even though Titan is located ten times farther from the Sun than our planet is, the upper atmosphere of Saturn’s moon still receives plenty of light.
Although Titan does not have a magnetic field of its own, like Earth does, it’s surrounded by the magnetic field of Saturn, which drapes around it, kind of like a comet’s tail, scientists explain.
The researchers found that photoelectrons that are negatively charged and are spread throughout Titan’s ionosphere, form an electrical field around it.
This electrical field is powerful enough to pull down the particles of nitriles and hydrocarbon which are positively charged from the atmosphere all the way to the regions that are sunlit.
This phenomenon sets up a polar wind that is widespread, as per the authors of the study.
Image Source: sciencemag